AAUW, CGI, and Building the Future of STEM
Last week, AAUW Vice President of Fellowships, Grants, and Global Programs Gloria Blackwell attended the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual two-day meeting in Chicago — CGI America. We chatted with Blackwell about AAUW’s role at the meeting, new ideas in promoting STEM education, and finding inspiration in daunting challenges.
Q: What is CGI America?
A: CGI America is an opportunity for national leaders to come together in a forum to talk about the challenges facing our country and to brainstorm solutions. So it really looks at everything that affects us as a country and as individuals.
The fact that President Bill Clinton challenged all of us to take a serious look at these issues is really daunting, but it’s also very inspiring. President Clinton said, “The whole premise of what we do [at CGI] is that none of us can solve the whole problem, but together we can move the world.” And that philosophy is really about people making commitments and connecting with each other. Because our government isn’t going to solve it. It’s really going to take individuals, corporations, NGOs, and governments working together.
Q: What was AAUW’s role in the meeting?
A: We played a role in the Girls and Women in America session, where we had an opportunity to talk about the challenges facing women and girls in STEM. We also participated in the STEM working group, since increasing the number of girls and women in STEM fields is a priority for AAUW.
Q: How did issues of women in STEM come up?
A: I participated in the computer science breakout group, which was a part of the STEM working group. At AAUW, we talk a lot about computer science and engineering and the lack of women and girls in STEM. There is clearly a crisis in computer science, particularly as it relates to not just girls but all students being exposed to computer science in high school, which is a predictor of pursuing the field in college. So the group that I was in set a goal that a third of all high schools should offer computer science courses and that the individuals in those courses should mirror the demographics of the students at their schools, so that the opportunities would be available not just to students who are likely to take computer science and AP courses.
One way to do that would be to engage new computer science teachers, repurpose teachers from different fields, and explore the link between IT professionals and teachers in order to create a joint curriculum. Once the curriculum was in place, there would need to be mechanisms in place to publicize it through organizations like AAUW or the PTA and other people who clearly have a vested interest in it. So really making the connections, creating a toolkit, and then finding the mechanisms to get the information out there — that was a large part of our discussion.
Q: How did AAUW provide a gender lens to that discussion?
A: We talked a lot about the need to ensure that girls were represented and that IT professionals going into the classrooms were both women and men. Whether in middle school or high school, girls would be able to see themselves one day perhaps having a career in computer science.
Q: So what’s next for AAUW and CGI, and what will that look like?
A: We are hoping that by CGI’s annual meeting in September we will have made inroads on having a solid commitment from AAUW, probably related to STEM. Given our recent work with community colleges, we’re also giving serious thought to workforce development, which is clearly a key field that we support as it relates to women and employment and economic stability.